1. The effects of feeding a diet containing ethanol as 36% of total calories for 4–5 weeks on muscle RNA content and blood flow was investigated in male rats weighing 150–250 g. Control animals were pair-fed the same diet in which ethanol was substituted by isocaloric glucose.
2. Chronic ethanol consumption reduced the capacity for type II (anaerobic, fast-twitch) fibre-rich skeletal muscles to synthesize protein as reflected by a decreased RNA/protein ratio. Type 1 (aerobic, slow-twitch) fibre-rich muscles were unaffected.
3. Ethanol feeding had no significant effect on cardiac output. Furthermore, the percentage of cardiac output to type I and type II fibre-rich muscles, bone and tissues of the gastrointestinal tract, i.e. stomach, small intestine and large intestine, was unaffected by ethanol consumption. Similarly, ethanol feeding had no effect on blood flow when it was calculated on the basis of tissue weight (ml min−1 g−1).
4. It was concluded that chronic ethanol feeding in the rat was associated with selective skeletal muscle dysfunction in the absence of changes in blood supply.